The #2 team in the country, the Arizona Wildcats, comes to Pauley Pavilion today. Many expect a blowout, and it very well could be. But there are a number of reasons to continue to support the Bruin team, especially in today's game...
You might feel as a UCLA fan that this is a lost season, that the head coach being replaced is inevitable and there's very little reason to root for this team.
But the game today against Arizona at Pauley Pavilion gives you many, many reasons to continue to root for this Bruin team. Not only because, well, you're a Bruin fan, but because of so many other elements involved in this game that touch that Bruin pride very deeply.
Pick your motivation:
-- Arizona is UCLA's most intense rival in the Pac-10. No matter the indifference or numbness you feel toward Bruin basketball right now, there is something about seeing that "Arizona" on the jersey that, regardless of the season or the situation, gets the Bruin blood boiling. Thank God, actually, that the state of the UCLA program hasn't taken away some of the most deeply embedded elements of Bruin basketball, like the intensity of the great rivalry with the Wildcats. It's down there, dormant, but it's still there.
-- Even though any Bruin fan with his eyes wide open realizes that the two programs, UCLA and Arizona, are currently going in two different directions, it still would hurt to see the Wildcats romp on UCLA on its home floor. There is still the pride that UCLA should never lose at Pauley, much less get blown out, much less by Arizona. It would be a great sign for the future that this predominantly young UCLA team shows it can play with Arizona today and that the rivalry will return to its rightful place as the most intense in the Pac-10 and one of the best in the country.
-- If UCLA loses today, they'll set a record for losses at Pauley Pavilion for a season. This year's team has tied the record with six losses at home that was set in 1988. Yes, it's probably inevitable that UCLA will set this record this year, but it doesn't have to be today.
-- It would make UCLA one loss closer to that dreaded outcome we all shudder to think about – snapping the NCAA record of 54 consecutive winning seasons. Even writing it makes me want to spit.
When actually considering the matchup today, Arizona is, obviously, the type of team that should give UCLA some considerable problems. Arizona is the best rebounding team in the Pac-10, averaging an astounding 41 boards a game. They have some strong inside players in 6-11 sophomore center Channing Frye and 6-9 senior power forward Ricky Anderson, as well as a steady flow of talented reserves in 6-9 sophomore big body Isaiah Fox and 6-8 sophomore Dennis Latimore.
Arizona also has quick guards that can shoot and penetrate. Senior point guard Jason Gardner is considered one of the best in the nation. He's the anchor of the team and initiates their offense. He creates points through finding seams in a defense to penetrate. 6-2 Salim Stoudamire, the Pac-10 freshman of the year last season, starts at the shooting guard position, and that's exactly what he is. He is averaging 11 points a game and shooting 43% from three. Gardner can also be deadly from behind the three-point arc.
The guy, though, that creates so much of Arizona's offense is perhaps the best passing player in the nation, 6-8 senior wing Luke Walton. He received many pre-season All-American honors and deservedly so. He is one of those players that, even if you aren't a fan of the team he's playing for, you have to step back and appreciate his game. The way he can find open teammates with his passing ability is truly a thing of beauty. And the scary thing for UCLA is that Walton, having missed a good portion of the season so far due to injury, is back and playing well. He had his best game of the season Thursday night against USC, when he had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.
Perhaps proving that he's one of the best players on the team as just a freshman, and the early favorite for Pac-10 freshman of the year is 6-3 wing Hassan Adams. Adams comes off the bench, averages just 20 minutes a game but is second on this highly talented team in scoring, averaging 13.5 points a game (behind Gardner's 13.6). Adams is a warrior, plays his butt off, and is their perimeter shutdown defender.
But if that isn't enough, Arizona might also have another of the most talented freshmen in the league in Andre Iguodala, a 6-6 athlete who is getting six points and five rebounds coming off the bench in 19 minutes a game.